Criminal defense lawyer relishes chance to do battle

May 26, 1992|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

At the end of a day spent bouncing like a pinball around Baltimore's criminal justice system, Jack Rubin, defense attorney, is consoling himself with past victories.

There's the 18-year-old Delaware kid who blew his best friend's head off after looting his bank account, confessed to police and got life without parole. On appeal, Mr. Rubin got the confession and the conviction thrown out.

"This," he says, slapping a pile of briefs from the Delaware murder, "is a great case. This is a beautiful case."

There's the reputed Baltimore drug enforcer, charged with both narcotics and murder. He beat the drug charges, and the state offered to drop the murder case, but with the right to revive it in the future.

"I didn't want that hanging over my client," he says. He rolled the dice and turned down the deal, risking a murder trial. The state dropped the charges.

There's the Baltimore County lawyer, caught with a king's ransom in cocaine in his golf bag, who walked out of the courthouse with probation.

"He paid me one third of his fee and declared bankruptcy," Mr. Rubin says, brown eyes ablaze, round face supported by an ample double chin. "Isn't that unbelievable? Isn't that gratitude?"

Few trades rankle the popular mind more than that of the criminal defense lawyer.

As long ago as 1933, H.L. Mencken was complaining about "the professional criminal" who escaped punishment "aided boldly by the kind of shyster lawyer he employs." Six decades later, the image has not improved. In this city of narcotics-fueled mayhem, the defense attorney is seen as working to keep the streets unsafe.

Jack Barry Rubin has no apologies. At 51, he has been doing this work for half his life. He does it at the fierce pace of about 50 court appearances a month, nearly a score of jury trials a year. By all accounts, he does it very well. Which means, of course, more of his clients walk.

"I have never acquitted anybody," Mr. Rubin says. "If making the state prove its case is unreasonable, I'm unreasonable."

He lives this work. He has left his sparse white hair white, he says, because "studies show that jurors trust people with white hair." He dropped bow ties when a psychologist told him jurors think a bow-tied lawyer is talking down to them. He is not fazed by the notices he gets occasionally from the Drug Enforcement Administration, saying his conversation with a client has been wiretapped.

He insists that he does not envy corporate lawyers their buttoned-down reputation.

"Never! Never!" He looms over you to answer, as he might loom over a jury. "That's the public perception: they're nice guys, we're slimeballs." Sigh. "Right. Respectable? Defending Dow Chemical? Union Carbide at Bhopal? It was OK to cover up what was going on with the Dalkon Shield?"

Mr. Rubin calls himself a "street kid from West Baltimore." His speech is peppered with profanity. He calls some clients "baby," as in, "Listen to me, baby: under no circumstances should you talk to the police."

But after a hard day consorting with alleged ne'er-do-wells, Jack Rubin likes to -- cook. "You can put your brain on the shelf. I must have a hundred cookbooks. French, Indian, everything." He listens to classical music. "I'm a subscriber to the opera, the symphony, the chamber society." He reads philosophy. "The 19th-century idealists. Nietzsche. Schopenhauer."

'Entrapment, my dear'

L The first call of the day has jangled him awake at 5:30 a.m.

"I'm looking for a lawyer," the guy says.

"It's 5:30 in the morning," Mr. Rubin explains.

"My trial's at 9," the guy says.

Mr. Rubin hangs up on him, a luxury he permits himself rarely. This is a business, after all.

A criminal defense lawyer, Mr. Rubin explains, is just like an obstetrician.

"People have babies in the middle of the night, and people generally get arrested at night," Mr. Rubin says. "Drug raids are at night or early in the morning. Bar fights, knifings, shootings tend to be after dark. I get three or four calls every day between midnight and the start of the working day."

To pull in these potential clients, no elaborate marketing strategy is required.

"Grapevine in the jail is real good," he says.

He says it sitting in the kitchen of his town house in Pikesville. It is 7:30. To prove his point, now comes the day's second call.

"Your son got locked up again." The voice is neutral, no condemnation, no sympathy.

"He's already out on bail for a felony, right? . . . Whether he had something on him or not isn't always relevant. . . . Can't promise we'll be there for the bail review, ma'am. But I'll check with pretrial and tell them I represent him."

This will be an ordinary, frustrating day: no tear-stained pleas for mercy, no courtroom confessions, just a couple of postponements, a waived hearing, an arraignment, and one successful invocation of The Idiot Defense.

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